Kudos on Michael Leo Owens paper on political
engagement and CDC's. It is clearly written, well thought out and provocative.
An important contribution.
A couple of thoughts. First, I appreciated and
concur enthusiastically with the conclusion that CDC's are often more
constrained politically by what they THINK the rules of their corporate status
are than by the real rules. The fact is, most effective community organizing
groups are tax exempt, 501 c 3's, and there are a thousand ways to change the
world without transgressing the tax laws.
Second, it might be interesting to look at the
culture of the Black church as it is mirrored in the culture of these CDC's.
Many - not all - Black churches have a 'strong pastor' culture, with the
pastor serving as a powerful embodiment of the will and aspirations of the
congregation. In this culture, the CDC affiliated is less likely to build
broad based community participation or leadership or to engage in messy
confrontation strategies. It's more likely to serve as a tool for delivering
the goods to the community or congregation. Political power is often built by
coalitions of Black pastors - as in Detroit. These may be called the Black
Ministers' Alliance or the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance or
the Interfaith Clergy Circle. These groups can negotiate with politicians and
bureaucrats, or even with private businesses and often deliver jobs,
housing, training and services to their members and to their neighborhoods.
Often they use the rhetoric of participation and even hark back to the
confrontational history of Civil Rights days, but the practice is more often
leadership centered than it is participatory or mobilizing.
Finally, there are, as Owens reflects often in his
paper, lots of interesting examples of CDC's either alone or in coalition
breaking out of the mold, struggling against the view that they are a delivery
system for government programs or a 'peaceful' alternative to messy community
organizing. This is important, because often the CDC or the church is one of
the few structures left in low income urban or rural areas. People with anger
and concern and good intentions gather there, and try to figure out what to do
next. I hope that this paper will be seen by folks in CDC's who see the need
to deliver tangible benefits and credible programs, and also see the need to
make social and economic change. They'll find encouragement and examples, and
will make a new way